Historic Preservation Month: Our Lady of the Annunciation Chapel
May is National Historic Preservation Month. Today, we share another story of a North Dakota addition to the National Register of Historic Places.
The city of Bismarck had a strong female, Catholic presence from its very early days, as five sisters first arrived in Bismarck in 1878 to open St. Mary’s Academy and Boarding School. This educational venture extended out from Bismarck into western North Dakota as time went by. In the 1880s, more Sisters from St. Benedict’s came to Bismarck to establish the first hospital in Dakota Territory, eventually developing into St. Alexius Hospital. Then in 1944, 140 Sisters from St. Benedict’s volunteered to begin a new monastic community in Bismarck. The first Motherhouse for this community was borrowed from the diocese, but it soon became crowded.
The Sisters of Annunciation Priory (now called Annunciation Monastery) contacted Marcel Breuer to design a new Motherhouse.
Marcel Breuer, born in 1902, was a Hungarian designer and architect. He is known for designing the Wassily Chair, an iconic, tubular steel chair that had been inspired by bicycle frames, and it was fabricated using the techniques of local plumbers. His work showcased the intersection of art with industry.
Breuer accepted the call to work with the Sisters. He created a complex that encompassed the Chapel, Convent Wing, Community Halls, and a School Wing. In his original four-part Master Plan, he played with concepts of shadow and natural light to create the sisters’ new home. On this date in 1963, Our Lady of the Annunciation Chapel was dedicated.
Today, the complex is part of the campus of the University of Mary. It’s the only examples of Breuer designs in the state. It was a favorite of Breuer’s. In fact, he referred to it as the “jewel on the prairie.” As the University of Mary has expanded, they have tried to “preserve the spirit of Breuer’s modernist prairie architecture.”
Sister Edith Selzler noted, “It has been a Benedictine tradition to build on mountaintops and high places …. This hilltop monastery and university campus…is true to that tradition in the care that the Sisters gave to locating a lofty and beautiful site and choosing, with daring leadership, a great architect who could design buildings that would become art treasures for the nation and world.”
Listen for more stories of preservation in North Dakota as we continue to acknowledge National Historic Preservation Month.
Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker
National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for Our Lady of the Annunciation Chapel
Sarah M. Walker, Head of Reference Services
North Dakota State Archives